One of the highlights of our stay in Salinas, California has been learning about the rich mix of cultures that make up Monterey County. The Ohlone Costanoan Esselen Nation (OCEN) is an American Indian community historically known as the Monterey Band of Monterey County. By 1927, however, this group and other California tribal bands were removed from the list of federally recognized tribes.
Several members of OCEN came into the Booth to talk about their lives. Recurring themes that surfaced in these interviews included the group’s efforts to regain federal recognition, and stories of growing up at a time when there was still a stigma attached to being American Indian. Pauline Arias talked about the fact that her family long identified as Mexican and how she felt when she discovered her Indian heritage. She also talked about how she is now learning more about tribal traditions and trying to pass those traditions on to her children.
Pauline’s brothers, Gary and James Martinez, talked about how their grandmother worked with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to help validate the claims of many families that they too were of Native American descent.
Louise J Miranda Ramirez talked about learning about and preserving the tribal language and traditions, which has become a full-time job. She shared folklore in the Esselen tongue and talked about how her practice of tribal traditions has kept her connected to the spirits of her grandmother and her daughter who both passed away at different points in her life.